First of all, I should say that what I did wasn’t big. It wasn’t clever. It was wrong and I admit full responsibility for my actions.
Yep – on Friday, I had to sit in a function room in the Hilton Hotel in Basingstoke while two police officers taught a couple of dozen offenders the error of their ways; 35mph in a 30 limit your honour? Guilty as charged.
To make matters worse I wasn’t even in a classic – I had borrowed a Renault Scenic from sister magazine, Autocar so there wasn’t even the excuse of ‘getting carried away’ or just enjoying the drive, I just forgot to check my speed.
Naturally I plumped to attend a Driver Awareness Training programme, run by Hampshire Constabulary.
I will admit to being slightly nervous as I pulled into the car park in the Scimitar – I didn’t want to be seen as some kind of reckless car mag journo that was keen to regal other attendees with heroic stories of tail-happy classics on wet roads and the like, and so I burbled up to the venue, wishing for a moment that the V6 was a little quieter.
Statistically, it wasn’t surprising that I was the only old-car owner there that day, but I quickly became rather proud that I was. Firstly I should say that hand on heart, the few hours spent in that room were without doubt some of the most informative.
The chaps running the course were not patronising or judgemental in any way but were slick, entertaining and naturally very clued up on what they were talking about.
Even the fact that one was a neat 50/50 split between David Brent from The Office, and a Jimmy Carr wannabe failed to dilute the afternoon’s effectiveness and I walked out from there utterly convinced that ALL drivers should attend one of these courses at some stage in their driving life – and I mean voluntarily.
So why was I proud to be a classic owner? Simple. I may have been there because I committed an offence, and importantly because I got caught, but so many of the reasons that they gave for people driving with a lack of due care and attention was put down to the wonders of modern technology.
Ensconced in a modern bubble, current drivers are not aware of what the car is doing, what their surrounding environment is telling them and as a result, their reactions suffer.
“Do me a favour,” Nick the trainer said. “Open your car window, switch the air conditioning off and see just how much you notice. Get some of that ‘old car feel’ back” he suggested.
He went on to extol the virtues of actually being able to listen to the car’s engine as it gave valuable clues about being in the right gear, before launching into a sermon about using the car’s engine and gearbox to remain in control – again, drawing reference to “how car’s used to be”.
Finally, he pointed out just how many blind spots there are in a modern car, and how thick contemporary A-posts are up the side of the windscreen: “You can lose a whole car in that” he correctly claimed.
And all of this made me even prouder to drive a classic on a daily basis because I agree with every single point he made. New cars may well be considered safer because of the improvements in impact protection, airbags, brakes etc, but perhaps prevention is equally as important.
We have often discussed the improved visibility from within our chosen classics (partly because none of us drives a Lamborghini Miura), and it has long been the opinion from the Port household that all new drivers should be made to drive a Morris Minor for six months in order to learn not to rely on brakes alone as well as experience the rudiments of driving without any modern cushioning.
Of course, one could argue that it hasn’t made any difference otherwise I wouldn’t have been in the course that day, but I for one know that if I hadn’t plumped for a life in classics, there is a good chance that I wouldn’t have made it to 21 years on the road before being the photographic subject of a speed camera.